Thoughts From the Frontline, August 2019

Digging a Hole to China

August 23, 2019

Good news: The trade war is over. No, it’s getting worse. Or maybe it is ending but it could start again tomorrow.

What I Learned at Camp Kotok

August 16, 2019

I am back from my 14th annual Maine fishing camp and the mood was decidedly different this year. The private event at Leen’s Lodge is generally called Camp Kotok in honor of David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors who started these outings many years ago. CNBC and others began calling it the “Shadow Fed” but it is really just a meeting of wickedly smart people focused on economics and markets. (I am allowed to attend for comic relief.) Throw in a little fishing, more fabulous food and wine than...

Larry Kotlikoff on The Big Con

August 9, 2019

I have a special treat for you. I’m at Camp Kotok, the annual economics/fishing retreat in Maine. Knowing internet connectivity would be scarce here, I asked good friend Larry Kotlikoff to be your guest writer this week.

An Opportunity in the Chaos

August 2, 2019

One reason the economy is so fascinating is the way things just… happen. Growth blossoms if everyone just follows their own incentives and nothing gets in the way. The courage, vision and passion of entrepreneurs and those who risk their money backing them is one of the most inspiring aspects of modern civilization. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand of now tens of millions of businesses, small and large and giant, working to produce and deliver inventions, technologies and cures that help us all....

Money of the Future

July 26, 2019

As I work on my book about the future, I think a lot about the ways possible events will affect our money. But I’m also thinking about something else: What kind of money will we use?

Recession Rumbles

July 19, 2019

I’m often asked if recession is coming, and for quite different reasons. Some people worry about their investments. Others are worried about their employment or their kids. Political types wonder if and how recession could affect the next election.

Ray Dalio – John Mauldin Conversation, Part 6

July 12, 2019

This is the final letter of the six-part series of my reply to Ray Dalio’s essays. Here are some links to help you wrap it all together.

Ray Dalio - John Mauldin Discussion, Part 5

July 5, 2019

“The belief that wealth subsists not in ideas, attitudes, moral codes, and mental disciplines but in identifiable and static things that can be seized and redistributed is the materialist superstition. It stultified the works of Marx and other prophets of violence and envy. It frustrates every socialist revolutionary who imagines that by seizing the so-called means of production he can capture the crucial capital of an economy. It is the undoing of nearly every conglomerateur who believes he...

Ray Dalio-John Mauldin Discussion, Part 4

June 28, 2019

This week is the fourth in a series of five open letters responding to a series of essays by Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates. His original letters are Why and How Capitalism Needs to Be Reformed, Parts 1 and 2 and It’s Time to Look More Carefully at ‘Monetary Policy 3 (MP3)’ and ‘Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)’. My replies are here, here, and here. Today I continue my response.

Ray Dalio Is Kinda, Sorta, Really Wrong, Part 3

June 21, 2019

Two weeks ago I started a mini-series in the form of an open letter responding to a series of essays by Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates. I wrote here and here that he was kinda, sorta wrong in Why and How Capitalism Needs to Be Reformed, Parts 1 and 2 but really, really wrong in It’s Time to Look More Carefully at ‘Monetary Policy 3 (MP3)’ and ‘Modern Monetary Theory,’ in which he basically endorsed MMT. Today I continue my response.

Ray Dalio Is Kinda, Sorta, Really Wrong, Part 2

June 14, 2019

Last week we started a mini-series in the form of an open letter responding to a series of essays by Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates. I wrote that he was kinda, sorta wrong in Why and How Capitalism Needs to Be Reformed, Parts 1 and 2 but really, really wrong in It’s Time to Look More Carefully at ‘Monetary Policy 3 (MP3)’ and ‘Modern Monetary Theory,’ in which he basically endorsed MMT. Today I continue my response.

Ray Dalio Is Kinda, Sorta, Really Wrong

June 7, 2019

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”
John Maynard Keynes

The Trump Trade War Recession?

May 31, 2019

Publisher’s Note: John Mauldin is recovering from a minor illness. He’ll be back next week. Meanwhile, with trade disputes still roiling markets, below is a still-timely letter he wrote last year. You should definitely read it again. Ed D’Agostino

Why Debt Won’t Spark Inflation

May 24, 2019

Modern technology was supposed to make travel less necessary. We can meet by phone, video, and now in virtual reality. But we’re still traveling more than ever. I certainly am.

Takeaways from the SIC

May 17, 2019

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

—David Foster Wallace, This Is Water

Your Pension May Be Monetized

May 10, 2019

One difficulty in analyzing our economic future is the sheer number of potential crises. When so much could go wrong (and really right, when the exponential technologies I foresee get here), it’s hard to isolate, let alone navigate, the real dangers. We are tempted to ignore them all. Ignoring them is usually the right response, too. We can “Muddle Through” almost anything.

Time to Change Strategy

May 3, 2019

My recent letters described what I think the future will look like. I hasten to add, it isn’t what I think the future should look like or what I want to see. Almost the entire developed world has painted itself into a corner.

How I Learned to Love the Debt

April 26, 2019

The US, Europe, and most of the developed world on are the road to Japanification. Like I wrote last week, we will see financial repression, ever increasing deficits, slower growth, etc. Essentially, the rest of us will begin to look like Japan with its astronomical deficits and ultra-dovish monetary policy.

The Rules Will Change but That’s (Probably) OK

April 19, 2019

“But the emperor has nothing at all on!” said a little child.

Japanified World Ahead

April 12, 2019

Regular readers may have noticed me slowly losing confidence in the economy. Your impression is correct and there’s a good reason for it, as I will explain today. The facts have changed so my conclusions are changing, too.

Capitalism Gone Wild

April 5, 2019

Recession is coming. We can debate the timing, but the economy will turn decisively downward at some point. My own analysis, looking at the data available on April 4, says recession isn’t likely this year but unfortunately looks very probable in 2020.

Recession Signs Everywhere

March 29, 2019

This month, the Federal Reserve joined its global peers by turning decisively dovish. Jerome Powell and friends haven’t just stopped tightening. Soon they will begin actively easing by reinvesting the Fed’s maturing mortgage bonds into Treasury securities. It’s not exactly “Quantitative Easing I, II, and III,” but it will have some of the same effects.

No Free Lunch, Part 2

March 22, 2019

Matching the stock market’s long-term average returns sounds like it should be easy, if you’re patient enough. But in fact it is remarkably difficult. In last week’s letter, Ed Easterling and I showed you why it is a longshot bet in almost every market environment. Returns over a decade or two are usually well above or well below average. Most of all, it’s fairly predictable which side of average will occur.

No Free Lunch: Valuation Determines Return

March 15, 2019

Last week, I described the enormous challenges retirees face. One reason for that, aside from insufficient savings, is that markets haven’t delivered the returns many experts said we could plan on.

Retirement Isn’t Happening

March 8, 2019

I have long said I don’t want to retire. I enjoy my work. It’s not too physical, other than the travel (which is finally beginning to wear on me). Also, my savings are not yet sufficient to sustain the retirement lifestyle Shane and I want. I could retire now but would rather wait.

The Fed Is Playing a Dangerous Game

March 1, 2019

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to read the Federal Reserve’s rabbit entrails to discern the economy. But Since the Fed exists in the real world, and its decisions matter, we have to pay attention.

Recession: Are We There Yet?

February 22, 2019

An old joke says economists predicted 15 of the last 10 recessions. In other words, they’re frequently wrong and often too pessimistic.

Modern Monetary Madness

February 15, 2019

More than 10 years ago some Australian readers begin regaling me with the ideas of economist Bill Mitchell of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales. He was teaching about something he called (and he coined the term) Modern Monetary Theory. I looked into it and fairly quickly dismissed it as silly. Actually printing money as an economic policy? Get serious.

Capitalism Without Competition

February 8, 2019

The Soviet Union’s collapse and spread of semi-free markets through Eastern Europe seemingly ended the socialism vs. capitalism argument. Capitalism had won. Collectivist economies everywhere began turning free. Even communist China adopted a form of free market capitalism although, as they say, with “Chinese characteristics.”

What Should We Then Expect (From Investing)?

February 1, 2019

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

—US President Dwight D. Eisenhower

How Should We Then Invest?

January 25, 2019

"To be absolutely certain about something, one must know everything or nothing about it."

Bull in the China Shop

January 18, 2019

The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks.... And therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

January 11, 2019

For a couple of years now, the economic narrative has shown a comparatively strong US against weakness in Europe and some of Asia (NOT China). The US, we are told, will stay on top. I agree with that, as far as it goes... but I’m not convinced the “top” will be so great.

The Year of Living Dangerously

January 4, 2019

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

…By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.

- William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I, 1606

Bear Markets, Fed Mistakes, and Quick Shots from John

December 28, 2018

A winters day,
In a deep and dark December…

“Wait, it doesn’t feel like winter. It’s not deep and dark, and it’s actually warm, and the sun is shining. Toto Shane, I don’t think we’re in Kansas Texas anymore.”

Powell, the Third Mandate, the New Fed and Crawdads

December 21, 2018

We have reached the best time of year, when we can look to the future with hope. We can stop wondering what will happen in 2018 and look forward to 2019. The investment industry always does this enthusiastically, as you will see in forecasts everywhere the next few weeks.

The Misunderstood Flattening Yield Curve

December 14, 2018

Everybody is suddenly talking about the inverted yield curve. They’re right to do so, too, but alarm bells may be premature. Inversion is a historically reliable but early recession indicator. The yield curve isn’t saying recession is imminent, even if it were fully inverted, which it is not.

European Threats

December 7, 2018

Someone asked recently how many times I had “crossed the pond” to Europe. I really don’t know. Certainly dozens of times. It’s been several times a year for as long as I remember.

Pyramids of Crisis

November 30, 2018

In an increasingly divided world, we all share one great desire: self-preservation. Not just humans, either. The survival instinct exists in almost every living thing. Humans simply have greater ability to do something about it.

Double Debt Problem

November 23, 2018

The selloff in GE is not an isolated event. More investment grade credits to follow. The slide and collapse in investment grade debt has begun… (and later) Don’t be fooled by bond prices holding up, because trading volumes are down. There are fewer bids in the market, and the dispersion of bids is wider. It is time to jog—not walk—to the exits of credit and liquidity risk.

- Scott Minerd, Guggenheim Partners Chief Investment Officer

Seventh-Inning Debt Stretch

November 16, 2018

Science tells us energy can neither be created nor destroyed within a closed system. Whatever amount is there will stay the same, though it might change form. If only the same were true for debt.

Economic Brake Lights

November 2, 2018

But, like Cinderella at the ball, you must heed one warning or everything will turn into pumpkins and mice: Mr. Market is there to serve you, not to guide you. It is his pocketbook, not his wisdom, that you will find useful. If he shows up some day in a particularly foolish mood, you are free to either ignore him or to take advantage of him, but it will be disastrous if you fall under his influence. Indeed, if you aren’t certain that you understand and can value your business far better than...

Debt Alarm Ringing

October 26, 2018

Is debt good or bad? The answer is “Yes.”

The Real Cost of Low-Fee Funds

October 19, 2018

Today, rather than tackle some big macroeconomic issue, we’ll go back to this letter’s roots and look at market timing and portfolio construction issues. I expect this will get both enthusiastic support and at the same time, make a number of readers uncomfortable—if not annoyed.

Red Hot China Mailbag

October 12, 2018

An odd aspect of being a writer is you never know in advance what will excite readers. I’ve written letters I thought very provocative only to draw mostly yawns.

The Trade Deficit Isn’t the Boogeyman

October 5, 2018

I have to confess something: I run a huge trade deficit. It’s not with China or Mexico, but with Amazon. I buy all sorts of goods from them and Jeff Bezos has yet to spend a penny with me. It’s just not fair.

The Trump Trade War Recession?

September 28, 2018

“A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

William F. Buckley, Jr., 1955

Chinese Growth Spurt

September 14, 2018

Economic reality isn’t black and white. At any given time, both good things and bad things are happening. Ignoring one side because it doesn’t fit your preferred outlook is an excellent way to go badly wrong.

China’s Command Innovation

September 7, 2018

Hardly a day passes without some sort of China news in the financial headlines. There’s a good reason, too. China is the global economy’s 600-pound gorilla, second in size only to the US. Yes, it was largely a copycat business economy up until the early 2000s, but Chinese entrepreneurs have really taken charge in the last 10 years. Fueled by the profits from huge consumer demand, they are expanding not only in China but globally. This story is largely ignored in the US and in much of Europe. We...

The Growing Economic Sandpile

August 31, 2018

“How did you go bankrupt?” 
“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

―Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Revolutionary Future Ahead

August 24, 2018

Back in 1936, in Esquire magazine of all places, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote something profound. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

The Good News Economy

August 17, 2018

In my business, there is a fine line between standing by your conclusions and being unwisely stubborn. But no matter what I say, people will still label me a perma-bear or perma-bull—often at the same time. It’s an occupational hazard to which I am accustomed.

The Maine Surprise Was Time

August 10, 2018

I’m back from Camp Kotok. As always, it was both rejuvenating and enlightening. The Maine woods, lakes, and general environment encourage more candor than I see most places. This, combined with David Kotok’s talent for assembling a diverse group and the always-marvelous Maine hospitality, made it another great success. It helps that David aggressively enforces Chatham House Rules and the Jackson Hole Rule. So you really don’t have to worry what you say.

The Distribution of Pain, Redux

August 3, 2018

This week I have something special for you: an update of “The Distribution of Pain,” one of 2017’s most popular letters. I say “popular” just in terms of feedback and reprint requests. It was thought-provoking but also sobering. I started with the original version, re-edited to clarify a few points, and added some new comments. It is still a timely, important topic.

Endgame Strategizing

July 27, 2018

We are all on a debt-filled train that is eventually going to crash, and if you are on it, it won’t stop to let you off first. Jumping at the last minute is not a good option, either. So what do you do? You take action now, while you have time.

How to Dodge the Debt Train

July 20, 2018

Standing in front of a speeding train is rarely a good idea, but most investors are doing it right now. They survive only because the debt train is still way down the tracks. It is nonetheless coming, and you will want to move before then. But which way?

The Debt Train Will Crash

July 13, 2018

We are approaching the end of the debt Train Wreck series. I’ve spent several weeks explaining why I think excessive debt is dragging the world economy toward an epic crash. The tracks ahead are clear for now but will not remain so. The end probably won’t be pretty. But there’s good news, too: we have time to get our portfolios, our businesses, and our families prepared.

An American Story

July 6, 2018

I hope everyone had a happy Fourth of July, whether it was a holiday for you or not. The United States’ birth as an independent nation was, among other things, an economic event that changed history far beyond our borders. We hope and believe it was for the better.

Unfunded Promises

June 29, 2018

In describing the global debt train wreck these last few weeks, I’ve discovered a common problem. Many of us define “debt” way too narrowly.

EUROPE HAS TRAIN WRECKS, TOO

June 22, 2018

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini at least made the trains run on time, according to legend. But other sources say the nation’s railway system remained horrible under his rule (see here, here, and here).

The Pension Train Has No Seat Belts

June 15, 2018

In describing various economic train wrecks these last few weeks, I may have given the wrong impression about trains. I love riding the train on the East Coast or in Europe. They’re usually a safe and efficient way to travel. And I can sit and read and work, plus not deal with airport security. But in this series, I’m concerned about economic train wrecks, of which I foresee many coming before The Big One which I call The Great Reset, where all the debt, all over the world, will have to be...

Debt Clock Ticking

June 8, 2018

Rather go to bed without dinner than to rise in debt.

—Benjamin Franklin

What can be added to the happiness of a man who is in health, out of debt, and has a clear conscience?

—Adam Smith

There are no shortcuts when it comes to getting out of debt.

—Dave Ramsey

Modern slaves are not in chains, they are in debt.

—Anonymous

Debt isn’t always a form of slavery, but those old sayings didn’t come from nowhere. You can find hundreds of quotes on the Internet discussing the problems of debt....

The Italian Trigger

June 1, 2018

Train wrecks and their financial analogues are a worldwide phenomenon. Europe, as I have written for several years, remains a giant accident waiting to happen—as Italy reminded us last week. You may have noticed the results when US trading resumed Tuesday. A wider crash may not be imminent but is certainly possible and will have worldwide effects if/when it happens. So now is a good time to review what’s already happened and what could be coming.

High Yield Train Wreck

May 25, 2018

My still-unfolding Train Wreck series is getting a lot of attention. It’s not exactly good news, but people at least appreciate the warnings. Thanks to all who sent thought-provoking comments. I always consider them carefully.

Train Crash Preview

May 18, 2018

Today we will summarize something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Exactly how will we get from the credit crisis, which I think is coming in the next 12–18 months, to what I call the Great Reset, when the global debt will be “rationalized” via some form of nonpayment. Whatever you want to call it, I think a worldwide debt default is likely in the next 10–12 years.

Credit-Driven Train Crash, Part 1

May 11, 2018

In last week’s letter, I mentioned an insightful comment my friend Peter Boockvar made at dinner in New York: “We now have credit cycles instead of economic cycles.” That one sentence provoked numerous phone calls and emails, all seeking elaboration. What did Peter mean by that statement?

Thoughts from the Mailbox

May 4, 2018

Since last week’s letter, I have flown enough to send me over 100,000 miles on American Airlines this year and make Executive Platinum. That is not necessarily a good thing. But wow, I learned a lot between all those flights.

Economy with a Fever

April 27, 2018

Getting a fever is no fun. You likely get chills, you sweat, and you’re just generally uncomfortable. You get tired easily and need to rest. But here’s the weird part: Fever isn’t the real problem. It’s a symptom of something else. You must treat whatever that is to relieve the fever.

China Plays It Cool

April 20, 2018


Photo: Getty Images

China is the world economy’s elephant in the room. We can’t possibly ignore it, yet many try anyway. Admitting China’s influence forces us to admit the world is changing—and we all must change with it.

How to Get Your Tax Weekend Back

April 14, 2018

This weekend millions of Americans and/or their accountants are preparing to file income tax returns. Tax day is an annual event as significant as the Fourth of July – though far less fun.

Assumptions Equal Problems

April 6, 2018

The future is tantalizing because it is both unknown and unknowable. At best, we can make educated guesses about tomorrow or next year. Sometimes, it’s actually hard to understand what happened in the past, much less to chart how the future might unfold.

Springtime Chart Fling

March 31, 2018

Here in Texas you know spring is here when our state flower, the bluebonnet, pops up everywhere. I was at the Masters in Augusta last year, and the azaleas were beautiful. But they are cultivated and take a lot of work to bring out their beauty.

Squares, FAANGs, and Stock Valuations

March 23, 2018

Valuing a stock isn’t hard. Each share is worth exactly as much as a buyer offers you when you try to sell. Quite simple. But of course, there’s more to it.

SIC Perspectives

March 18, 2018

It’s been a week and I’m starting to recover from my post-SIC high. It’s a weird feeling. I love SIC, yet processing it all takes time. Imagine one of those brain maps that shows the neurons opening new pathways. That’s what SIC does. It opens connections that I didn’t previously have.

The Great Jobs Collision

March 11, 2018

We’ve just wrapped the Strategic Investment Conference, which in many ways is the best week of my year. Seeing so many old friends, making new ones, and having countless fascinating conversations is my idea of heaven.

Inflation and Honest Data

March 3, 2018

I’m going to wrap up our series on the problems of collecting and analyzing data in the first half of this letter, and then I’ll quickly comment on the Trump tariffs. I think both topics will feature in this week’s Strategic Investment Conference. At the end of the letter there will be a link to our Virtual Pass, which will allow you to watch the conference live or at your leisure and to read the transcripts of the presentations.

State of Inflationary Confusion

February 25, 2018

“Nobody knows anything.... Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

– William Goldman, Oscar-winning screenwriter

Data-Dependent ... on Imaginary Data

February 18, 2018

Federal Reserve officials like to say their policy course is “data-dependent.” That sounds very cautious and intelligent, but what does it actually mean? Which data and who’s interpreting it? Let’s ask a few questions.

Where Will We Get the Cash?

February 10, 2018

Last week’s turbulence shined a harsh spotlight on the stock market. Appropriately so, if that’s where your investments are. But in the hubbub many investors are missing the deeper and far more urgent bond market issues.

Enjoy It While You Can

February 3, 2018

If you travel as much as I do, you come to value nonstop flights. Connections introduce uncertainty and potential delays, not to mention what often feels like wasted time; but sometimes connections are just unavoidable. But you don’t want them to be too tight. Those five-minute sprints from one concourse to another are never fun. Better to have some breathing room.

Gross Domestic Problems

January 27, 2018

Fictitious Wall Street villain Gordon Gekko famously declared, “Greed is good.” I think actual Wall Street titans would mostly disagree. They would change one word. Instead of “greed,” they would say, “Growth is good.” That is Wall Street’s real mantra. Growth is the magic elixir we all need.

A Fly in the Economic Ointment?

January 20, 2018

The holidays are fading from memory, and 2018 is off to a good start, economically speaking. Most of the forecasts I’ve read expect a good year – not a blockbuster year or a horrendous one, but a mild pickup that ought to satisfy investors. Even the bears seem less confident than usual.

Year of the Octopus, Part 2

January 12, 2018

Only two weeks in and 2018 is already breaking records – mostly in a good way. But that leaves 50 potentially less enjoyable weeks to go. So rather than focus on promising current events, I think I’d better dip back into my annual forecast bag and share a few more highlights with you.

Year of the Octopus, Part 1

January 5, 2018

Greetings from Hong Kong, where the locals are preparing to welcome the new year on February 16. While 2018 is the Year of the Dog on the traditional Chinese calendar, on the nontraditional Mauldin calendar we call it the Year of the Octopus. I don’t know exactly what’s coming, but I’m pretty sure it has more than four limbs.

Economy on a Roll

December 31, 2017

In addition to popping champagne corks and black-eyed peas (at least in the South) on New Year’s Day, year-end brings something else for economists and portfolio managers: annual forecasts. People want to know what the coming year will bring. I would like to know, too. But since I’m on the other side of your monitor, I must give you my own forecast. Caveat emptor applies.

Why 2017 Was a Year to Celebrate

December 17, 2017

The holidays always prompt us to look both forward and back. Soon you’ll start seeing 2018 forecasts. I’ll review some of them for you and give you my own in the coming weeks. But first, I want to take a look back at 2017 – and do it a little differently.

Automatic Job Storm Coming

December 9, 2017

Almost every weekday, some arm of the US government issues some sort of economic statistic. News media and financial analysts review and report it. Then 99.9% of the adult population, and probably 90% of the financial industry, forget all about it. And they’re probably right to do so.

Renovating the Fed

December 2, 2017

Earnings don’t move the overall market; it’s the Federal Reserve Board…. Focus on the central banks and focus on the movement of liquidity…. Most people in the market are looking for earnings and conventional measures. It’s liquidity that moves markets.

– Stan Druckenmiller (hat tip Steve Blumenthal)

The Bonfire Burns On

November 25, 2017

“Life invests itself with inevitable conditions, which the unwise seek to dodge, which one and another brags that he does not know, that they do not touch him; but the brag is on his lips, the conditions are in his soul. If he escapes them in one part they attack him in another more vital part. If he has escaped them in form and in the appearance, it is because he has resisted his life and fled from himself, and the retribution is so much death.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation”...

Bonfire of the Absurdities

November 17, 2017

“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
– Ecclesiastes 1:2, King James Version (attributed to King Solomon in his old age)

The Distribution of Pain

November 10, 2017

When you write about economics, you learn very quickly that the economy doesn’t care what you say about it. The forces that drive it are beyond any one person’s comprehension, much less control.

The Fragmentation of Society

October 29, 2017

Lately, my life has been completely packed with speeches, meetings, and in-depth, often lengthy, conversations. Plus ongoing research and writing, of course. It all culminated Thursday afternoon at the beginning of a business meeting with the leadership team from a firm that will become a significant new business partner. At the very beginning of the meeting, the head of the firm leaned over to me and asked, “What’s on the top of your mind? What are you thinking about?” The previous night we...

Rethinking Education

October 22, 2017

This week’s letter will be more like an Outside the Box than a Thoughts from the Frontline. I am feeling under the weather, and while I can read and move around somewhat, I am really not thinking all that well and am not up to wasting your time writing a letter that neither you nor I will be happy with.

The World Turned Upside Down

October 14, 2017

Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met at midnight
In the hanging tree.

– Lyrics from the theme song of The Hunger Games

If buttercups buzz’d after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches on sea,
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows,
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse,
If the mamas sold their babies
To the gypsies for half a crown;
If summer were spring and the other way round,
Then all the world would be upside down.

– Lyrics from a 17th...

Uncle Sam’s Unfunded Promises

October 7, 2017

Here’s a surprisingly profound question: What is a promise? Dictionaries offer various definitions. I like this one: “An express assurance on which expectation is to be based.”

Global Retirement Reality

September 30, 2017

Today we’ll continue to size up the bull market in governmental promises. As we do so, keep an old trader’s slogan in mind: “That which cannot go on forever, won’t.” Or we could say it differently: An unsustainable trend must eventually stop.

Build Your Economic Storm Shelter Now

September 23, 2017

If you’re idly conversing with someone you don’t know well, the weather is usually a safe topic. It affects everyone in some way, so it’s a shared experience – but there’s something else, too. The weather is no one’s fault. It is what it is, so you need not worry that the other person will blame you for it. None of us can control the weather. And lately, the weather has been interesting, unless you had to live through its more extreme manifestations. Then it’s been hell. Before this week, I...

Pension Storm Warning

September 16, 2017

This time is different are the four most dangerous words any economist or money manager can utter. We learn new things and invent new technologies. Players come and go. But in the big picture, this time is usually not fundamentally different, because fallible humans are still in charge. (Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart wrote an important book called This Time Is Different on the 260-odd times that governments have defaulted on their debts; and on each occasion, up until the moment of collapse,...

The Future of the Global Economy

September 10, 2017

If you establish a democracy, you must in due time reap the fruits of a democracy. You will in due season have great impatience of public burdens, combined in due season with great increase of public expenditure. You will in due season have wars entered into from passion and not from reason…

– Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister of England, novelist

In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control, and those dedicated to the goals the...

Colorado Scattershots

September 2, 2017

Ask a child what he or she wants to be when they grow up, and you’ll probably get a standard answer: firefighter, doctor, teacher – all occupations we learn to recognize at an early age. Rarely do you hear a young one say, “I want to be a writer.” I don’t recall ever saying it. Yet here I am, with writing as one of my several occupations.